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Best of ASMP 2009

Home is where the heart is, and Jerry Siegel went back to Central Alabama’s Black Belt region to find it. Describing his fine art series “Black Belt Color” as a contemporary view of the South, Siegel’s commitment to his personal work earned dividends in March 2009, when he was selected for a $15,000 grand prize in the inaugural Artadia Atlanta award program. In addition to growing interest in his winning series, Siegel’s award will help support an exhibition and book for his long-term portrait project on Southern artists, scheduled for 2011.

Jerry Siegel


Project: Selection for 2009 Artadia Atlanta Award for the series “Black Belt Color”.

© Jerry SiegelAll images in this article © Jerry Siegel

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

JS: Since Jan 1986.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

JS: Since 1996.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

JS: My commercial work is primarily shooting people, in the studio or on location. My fine art work is a mixture of people and landscape and rural/small town life.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

JS: Obviously I can’t work without my camera, but I consider my intuition and experience as valuable as my camera.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

JS: I do not map out or plan shoots in advance. I think them through to be prepared for what’s expected and for the unexpected, but I rely on intuition and I work fairly quickly. When I photograph people, I put them at ease and make them comfortable. I try to make it as easy and painless for them as possible.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

JS: This work is about seeing. There is really not a particular process or technique.

ASMP: You recently received a large award as part of the 2009 Artadia Awards in Atlanta. Please give us some background about the program and how you became aware of this opportunity.

JS: Artadia was founded as The ArtCouncil in 1997 by investment banker and art collector Christopher E. Vroom, in response to the demise of the National Endowment for the Arts artist fellowships. Artadia’s mission is to encourage innovative practice and meaningful dialogue across the United States by providing visual artists in specific communities with unrestricted awards and a National network of support. Artadia is the only non-profit organization in the country building a national network to support the foundation of creative culture — the living artist.

This was Artadia’s first year in Atlanta. I read about it in the local paper, as well as hearing about it from other artists and arts people in the community.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Please describe the work you submitted for this award. What is the theme/subject matter and approximately how many images are contained in this series? What is the size and media of the pieces? How long have you been doing this work?

JS: The work I submitted is part of a body of work titled “Black Belt Color.”

It is a continuing project about the Black Belt region in Central Alabama. It is not about the “ruins and remembrances,” but is a contemporary view of the South. I was born and raised in this area and have concentrated on this project since 2000. The work is produced as limited edition prints in 3 sizes with 7 in each edition.

ASMP: When did you submit your work and when did you find out you were shortlisted as a finalist? How many other submissions were received?

JS: I do not remember when the submissions were due. I think the shortlist came out in early March and the studio visits were the end of March.

There were about 300 artist submissions, and 15 finalists.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: You were selected for this award after a studio visit with three jurors. Please describe this visit. Did they come as a group or individually?

JS: They all came together to each studio. They were scheduled for 45 minutes with each artist. It was quick, not a whole lot of conversation or questions about the work.

They looked at the work and the studio and were off to the next stop. It was fun and interesting, but I did not think there was much interest when they left.

ASMP: Had you ever met any of the jurors prior to this studio visit? If so, please describe your existing relationship with them.

JS: I had introduced myself to them at a reception the night before the studio tours began. I had not met any of the before the reception. One of the jurors was from Atlanta, but we had never met.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Is there any one question the jurors asked or area of discussion that you engaged in that seemed particularly notable or memorable?

JS: Not about my work.

ASMP: At the end of your studio visit, did you feel like you had made a good impression or have any sense of your chances for receiving an award?

JS: I did not think I had made any impression, except as a good host and a likeable person. Did not think I had a chance in hell of getting any of the awards. There were 2 grand prizewinners and 5 secondary awards.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Did you do any follow up with the jurors after the studio visit? If so, please describe your correspondence.

JS: I sent an email to each of the jurors, thanked them for selecting me, hoped to see them all again soon. And to please call if I could ever do anything for them, including getting more gingerbread cookies.

ASMP: What was the timeline for the final award announcement and how was it communicated to you? What was your immediate reaction to the news?

JS: They finished the studio tours on Saturday and I believe I got the phone call on Tuesday. I was really surprised; beyond thrilled (not for the money, but to win the award with this cast of artists) and couldn’t believe it. I just kept laughing and smiling.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Do you have specific plans for the award money? Please elaborate.

JS: No immediate plans. I am continuing my work on another long-term project of portraits of Southern artists. It’s scheduled for traveling exhibition and publication in 2011. This award will definitely help me to continue working on this project as well as the Black Belt series and other projects I have planned.

ASMP: Since receiving this award have you benefited from other positive career breaks, such as fine art image sales, commercial assignments, gallery representation, exhibition or book offers, other grants or awards and so on?

JS: The recognition has been great. I already had some museum shows on the docket, but added new representation. I have been asked to be part of some additional shows and there’s definitely more interest in my work.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: According to your Web site, you split your time between your fine art and commercial work. Can you estimate what percentage of time you spend on each part of your output?

JS: Hard to say in percentages. When the commercial assignments are coming in, I work very hard at them, and as soon as there is a break, I jump into the fine art mode. Many times I do schedule time for the fine art work to make sure I am giving myself time to create new work.

ASMP: How do you balance these two aspects of your career? Do you have any tips or insights for others who are struggling with this kind of balance?

JS: I work hard and make sure I am keeping my clients happy as well as myself. I love the commercial assignments, but am reenergized when I can hit the road and work on one of my own projects.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Does your personal work affect the style or content of your commercial photography?

JS: I think I am constantly learning, evolving and changing — and getting better all the time. The more you look and see and shoot, in whichever discipline, you grow as an artist.

ASMP: In an average year (or month if this is easier to calculate) how much time do you dedicate to seeking and applying for grants and funding for your fine art work?

JS: Not nearly enough. I spend so much time shooting commercial assignments, and then shooting, editing and printing the fine art work, I do not do as good a job as I should at researching grants. It is important, but I love to “see” and press the shutter.

© Jerry Siegel

ASMP: Do you have any specific insights to give others for success in seeking funding for their work?

JS: You just have to keep putting yourself out there. Look for opportunities to meet people in the art world, ask questions and make time to do research. Apply for grants and awards because every time you do, you learn something new about the process.

© Jerry Siegel